Friday, December 18

Threads of Fate

A few days ago I had an epiphany, while writing. It ended up in this form:

We are flying over the blackness now
very high.

The plane roars with power, and in its center
our peace.

No one is above or below, before or behind.

There is no need to talk, understand, decide;

it is what is.

Tonight I had another epiphany. At its center, it was this: that I need to have epiphanies more often. They usually bring information that I already know, but which has been drowned out in a mass of thoughts, of less valuable information. During the epiphany, the essential is clear, it reverberates, all else is quieted, and I am full of a great dynamic acceptance.

It's very tempting to approach everything backwards, starting with the emanations, because that's what we see before us. But that's not really how things are. Everything starts with attunement, emotions, which are so similar to sound. In that sense everything starts with composure.

Virtually all great people were great because they were able to tap in to that state of higher understanding. Although it is possible to coast on one's previous achievements, to recycle them, or to achieve a comfortable balance and then cease to tap in. Two contradictory things are true at the same time: on one hand, when we are lost, we are meant to be lost, which is often a comforting thought... and we aren't actually lost, but on an obscure path. On the other hand, at any given moment there is what we truly are, what we are truly meant to be doing, and without inspiration our current lives are only shadows of that true life.

For me, rather than concentrate on 'what I am meant to be doing right now,' I would do best to concentrate on training myself to tap in more regularly. It's something I've tried to do before with journal writing sessions, to no avail. I need to learn something on a deeper level. It's been done before, and studied before, with however mixed results, and I need to use those resources and keep them focused on my specific ends.

Sunday, December 13

Monday, November 30

Consider the Library

A lot of people avoid using their libraries, because they so often end up with late books and fines. Nowadays, most libraries have electronic requesting, reminder and renewing systems. So if you've been avoiding your local library, you might check it out again. Library books are a wonderful way to read indulgently without having to spend indulgently, and also a great way to get access to books you don't want to keep, or to look over a book thoroughly before you decide to buy it. Sometimes books that are out of print and hard to buy are easy to find through the library. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to walk to our local library, take out a bunch of books on all sorts of subjects that make me happy, stroll home, and then spend the next few hours immersed in all those books.

If you do have fines on your account, bear in mind that as long as the librarian you're talking to has the authority to do so, they're usually very generous about deleting those fines. And finally, think of the occasional moderate fine as a donation to support the library.

Thursday, November 5

A Few Favorite Things

Some day I'll write some introductory posts to the subject of essential oils. In the meantime, I was reminded today that I want to post about my favorite non-oil products from my favorite EO supply companies, as I went to reorder a few of these things.

From Mountain Rose Herbs, which has a vast organic-oriented selection, I really like their Injur-Heal Herbal Oil. Applied to bruises and general ouches (that don't involve broken skin), it is amazingly effective and has a lovely scent as well. It combines the famous healing powers of arnica, calendula, and lavender... and less famous topical powers of St John's wort too.

From Nature's Gift, there's a whole bunch of nice things. One of the most useful is the 'shea souffle', shea butter whipped so that it has a creamy texture, and it's easy to apply. It's unrefined, and yet has none of the strong scent associated with most unrefined shea butter. Even better than its use as a moisturizer, it makes an absolutely fantastic lip balm. Scoop a little of this soft shea butter into a lip balm container of whatever kind, and you have yourself an instant lip balm, made with one pure ingredient only. Most natural lip balms sold nowadays contain beeswax, and in my experience wax dries my lips out over time, or somehow worsens the texture of the skin. Presumably since wax is waterproof, it blocks the natural passage of moisture in and out of one's lips. And when you see a vegetable oil as the primary ingredient in hard lip balm, doesn't the hardness of a vegetable oil suggest that it may be in trans fat form? Anyway, my point is that the shea butter will saturate your lip with a thin layer of oil and soften the skin, without any of the unpleasant effects of wax or possibly trans fats.

What else? Otherwise, I really like their Cleopatra's Secret toner and skin serum. I use them together at the same time on my face, which has a similar effect to moisturizer, which is after all oil and water mixed together. (The technical term for this currently escapes me.) To wash my face, though, I just use honey, something I plan to post about someday.

There are a lot of other nifty things on both sites, so they're well worth exploring.

Wednesday, September 30

Apples that Taste like Apples

I love apples from the farmer's market at this time of year. I always pick the smallest ones, and in varieties that have a blush, I choose the darkest, reddest apples--I find those are sweeter. Do you have any tips on buying the best tasting apples?

Friday, July 24

Chickpeas & Greens Parmesan Salad, and Braised Potatoes with Garlic

We had a lovely summer dinner tonight--chickpeas & greens parmesan salad, and braised potatoes with garlic.

For the salad, we prepared these chickpeas a la Orangette. Then we prepared a salad of lettuce, sun sweet cherry tomatoes, and cucumber, with more olive oil and lemon juice to boost the dressing, and mixed the chickpeas in.

I've been saving the braised potatoes with garlic recipe for a long time--it just looked good. And it turned out even more delicious than I expected. I did change the recipe slightly though--I minced the garlic, and added it in the middle of the 20 minutes of simmering. I also added the rosemary at the beginning of the boiling down of the sauce. This recipe gets high praise from us--the potatoes reach that luscious point of holding their shape on the plate but dissolving in the mouth. And they're wonderfully lightly flavorful--an excellent mild but still interesting complement to the main dish.

And altogether this was a great combination, an extremely light dinner but with the chickpeas and potatoes still delivering satisfaction.

And for dessert, cherries in whipped cream with a touch of agave nectar.

Monday, July 20

Hassle Free

On the one hand, it's unpleasant to nag and be nagged. On the other hand, it does help get things done. I don't nag my partner, for the most part. But the fact is that he forgets the things I've asked him to do, or certain things he needs to do that I care about more than he does. So we've discovered a great in between solution, Hassle Me emails. Whenever I think of something I want him to do, I write it in, and select a number of days at which it'll repeat the reminder. Then I don't have to think about it anymore, but he will. It's the best of both worlds! So far it's even been working, as he repaired our rickety futon base. But no matter what it fulfills its most important function--it keeps these thoughts awake for him, and then he gets to decide what he wants to do with them at any given point in time.

You can use these emails to remind yourself of things too. I find a to do list application works better for me when it comes to tasks... I'm more likely to tune out emails, but focus on a list. But I have used it to remind myself of thoughts I want to keep around every few months, such as the importance of decreasing heated plastic food containers, and also little inspiring thoughts or links.

Saturday, June 27

Another blend...

Frankincense, cardammom, and vetiver. Quite an interesting combination.

Wednesday, May 6

Energetic, Rooted, & Spare

Today's essential oil blend: frankincense, elemi, yuzu, patchouli.

Tuesday, May 5

More Knitting

Here's what I've finished lately. The star is this new Clapotis, in pink.

I was desperate for an early spring scarf; it had to be soft and beautiful and fun. It also had to be adaptable, so that it could keep me so warm that it could replace winter's sweaters and cowls, and yet unlike those winter woolens it could easily be unwrapped to provide a little less warmth, for balmier days. And it had to brightly chase away winter's drabness. With the black and white Clapotis I had the right yarn, and the right pattern, but not the right colors. So I chose another colorway, "rupestre", which after a quick search seems like it's named after a flowering sedum. It's really the perfect color for me--I thought it might be, since the lipsticks that suit me are usually this color too. And the color goes well with my favorite dark green trench coat. I wanted this scarf so much that I spent two days doing nothing but working on it, in order to finish up the second half.

I also finished two more Ariosa Cowls. Brioche is such a relaxing way to knit, it somehow seems to pleasantly stretch the hands after lots of regular knitting. The first one is my favorite, in Silk Garden scraps:

And the second one is with Silk Garden Chunky, a yarn with a softer texture but duller colors:

This pattern is so hard to decipher. I got stuck on the join, even though I'd done it once before, and even our brilliant knitting instructor took awhile to puzzle it out again. This time around I drew a diagram for myself, so I hope that for future Ariosa Cowls that'll be easier.

Since finishing these projects I've mainly been knitting a Karius with Kauni EQ, a rainbow yarn. It's a simple pattern, great for knitting while traveling as I was. I'm now setting that aside to focus on the Baby Surprise Jacket, which is made much easier, because Schoolhouse Press just published a new version of the pattern, which is far more detailed and accessible to the not-quite-genius-knitters among us! All of which was great timing for me. I'm still swatching and deciding which yarn to use, and having lots of fun with color.

Saturday, May 2

May Day Play in the Dirt

I spent yesterday doing some long-awaited gardening. It's traditional for me to start gardening later in the year than is ideal, but in this case I was waiting on a new planter... and then I was waiting on a replacement part... and then there was the ski trip and so on. Oh well, it's sort of luxurious to start gardening on a very summery May 1st. I even got a pleasantly mild sunburn.

There's isn't much to show for it yet. I shifted a lot of potting soil (full of marigold and violet seeds) from planters and pots that are being given away or retired, and transplanted a lavender, late tulips and a straggling patch of violets, as well as some gooseflower roots that I hope are still alive. I also brought our Christmas tree outdoors and moved the worm bin. And I planted some seeds: morning glory, moonflowers, sweet peas, scarlet runner bean, butterfly bush, mammoth dill, and flax. Here are some pictures. On the further end of our porch you can see the old planters which still hold soil and plants. As far as the rubbermaid bins go, one holds extra potting soil, and the other one is what we receive our grocery order in, we just store it out on the porch.

I think for this year I'll add some organic fertilizer to the potting soil, order another planter, use up a lot of my old "what was I thinking buying all these" seeds, and fill in with some transplants from the nursery. As far as long term decisions go, I'll leave most of them to next year. In general I struggle with this kind of small scale gardening because there's so much that I want to do, I try to do a little of everything and the containers end up rather chaotic. I think that the kind of porch garden that would make me happiest at this point is a low-maintenance one with greenery in the winter and flowers in the warm seasons, as much vines as possible over the porch rails, and a modest production of vegetables such as cherry tomatoes (mmm).

I also brought some chickweed that I was pulling up into the kitchen, and added it to a turkey and cheese sandwich that was sadly lacking in greenery.

Thursday, April 30

Incongruously Wintery Ski Trip

While the rest of the world was reveling in Spring, I went on a belated ski trip in Whistler with my mother and brother, who were visiting from New York. We planned it for the beginning of April, which I think would have been perfect timing. And then because of unforseen circumstances, we delayed it to the end of April. Well that was stretching it, but we still got in some marvelous skiing, and a little snowy hiking. Then I came back to a Vancouver that's practically in the grips of summer now, which I'm just getting used to again. I wish I could speed up the process of getting to summer's heat, and simultaneously slow down the seasons of flowers, especially all the flowering trees.

Skiing isn't very compatible with taking pictures, I find, but I still got a few favorites from the trip.

Wednesday, April 29

Splendid Podcasts

Perhaps a year ago, a cookbook called "How to Eat Supper" came out. It emerged from the radio show about cooking called The Splendid Table. I remember everyone talking about the cookbook, especially the method of cooking rice mentioned therein. Each review would begin "I've been listening to The Splendid Table a long time..." and each time I'd think to myself "A radio show about cooking? How could that possibly work, if it's just talking, and there can't even be any pictures..."

Well, recently I was subscribing to podcasts to listen to while knitting. And on a whim I subscribed to The Splendid Table. After all, the podcast is free, and then you can listen to the shows whenever you want, and save them. Eventually I got around to listening, and I have been so impressed. Lynne Kasper, the host, is wonderful. Every time she says "mhmm" it sounds like her mouth is watering at the thought of whatever she's hearing about. When people call in, asking about any food-related subject under the sun, it's incredible how she can turn a seemingly bland or obscure subject into a font of delicious ideas. And the segments with guests and so on are so diverse and full of useful information.

Saturday, March 28

Knitting Progress

Here's what I've been making lately:

A Clapotis in Malabrigo Silky Merino...

I used a spreadsheet I found on Ravelry (see my project entry for more information), and purled the stitches to be dropped, instead of using stitch markers to mark them. This made for some lovely, rhythmic knitting, and it went fairly fast, especially the second half. The colorway didn't suit me, and I am very glad that it found a happy home with my stepdaughter Cailleach.

A cowl, based on the Three Seas Cowl pattern, in Koigu for Dragana...

I loved my variation on the pattern, which creates straight rib alternating with cabled rib. I cabled both ribs, but I staggered the cables, which produced a wave like effect. The yarn is famously beautiful, but being fingering weight it was sometimes tedious to knit. It's also superwash, meaning it will not felt. This results in a yarn that is more smooth and less warm than regular wool, but it's still fairly warm and is perfect for spring and fall.

I think that when next winter approaches, I'll be knitting more of these in merino, alpaca and cashmere.

An Ariosa cowl in brioche stitch, using Noro Silk Garden...

Two color brioche stitch is a perfect opportunity to play with color. But playing with color doesn't always produce the results one planned. This is a perfectly serviceable cowl, and attractive enough in its own way, but it's not what I had in mind. I plan to knit lots of these, until I have achieved the kind of colorplay I'm imagining. After all, as a cowl it's a fairly quick knit. And even aside from what I have in mind, which (probably) involves self striping yarn, I think two color brioche would be a great way to get more beautiful results from variegated yarns.

I'm currently working on a Clapotis in pink, a pair of fingerless gloves from the Dashing pattern to keep my hands warm while knitting, a Baby Surprise Jacket, Knitting Accreditation Level 1 through the Canadian Knitter's Guild, and another Ariosa cowl or two. I have also delved into a book called The Complete Book of Decorative Knots, and I'm intrigued by the possibilities.

Saturday, February 21

Knitting Love

Goodness, how time has flown. There has been a lot more going on for me than usual in these past few weeks. Anyway, I'm back.

Alongside all the action, I've been falling in love with knitting. It started with the long awaited arrival of the BagSmith project bag, which allows me to keep my yarn, knitting supplies, and ongoing knitting projects all in one place; and then I can easily carry it all from the living room chair to the bed and back. It makes a big difference to have my knitting and supplies handy at all times. I suppose that technically, it's more of a caddy than a bag. By the way, if you're a knitter looking to keep your supplies safe from pets, check out Lantern Moon's drawstring baskets.

Another boost came from Ravelry. Oh, Ravelry, how I love thee. Thanks to this well designed website, I can know look at a simple chart to see if I have the knitting needles I need--I don't have to go through all of them, checking their sizes and lengths. I can also search through thousands of patterns, a vast number of them free. And then I can check photos (and comments) of other people's finished projects made using that pattern--a great way to get warnings about problems, tips for modifications to make it even better, an idea of what body shapes the pattern looks best on, and what types of yarn work best for the pattern. And then there's a queue in which you can save all these patterns you find, in the order in which you want to use them. There's far more than this in Ravelry, but I think it would take me forever to describe all the good things held therein.

I recently finished this cowl, my first time attempting cables. I also learned how to do the Norwegian purl, and figured out the two color brioche stitch. I've also registered for a class at my local yarn store, where an instructor helps you with whatever you're working on--so I can get help with the brioche stitch cowl pattern, and starting my first vest. I'm also finishing up a hat for Gordan.

Knitting is a wonderful hobby to have any time one is laid low, since it's not very physical. It can be quite meditative, and it's also a great source of mental stimulation, if you look for patterns and stitches that stretch your current skills. I'm trying to keep two projects going at any given time (though preferably not many more than that); one that is easy and monotonous, for knitting when I'm tired or distracted or there's low light; and a challenging creative project, for daytime knitting when I'm free to concentrate.

Shall I divulge more of my recent knitting-related shopping? Well, I got some row counters: these dangly kinds, and an abacus bracelet. Of course by the time they arrived I was no longer working on a project that required row counting, but there will be another one eventually. And I got a beautiful lamp with an extra dim lightbulb for the bedroom, for knitting at night. I'm also coveting these slightly ridiculous sheep tape measurers--it won't be long before I have one, I'm pretty sure.

Wednesday, January 28

Cooking With Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole wheat pasta poses a challenge. It's far healthier than refined pasta, offering the fiber and higher nutrient content of whole wheat, but it doesn't taste as good. Basically, the taste is more rustic. While whole wheat pasta will never be exquisite--at least not the types that are commonly available in stores--it's possible to cook basically delicious meals with them. At that point, the pasta may still be an acquired taste, but at least it's possible to enjoy it.

The trick is to use ingredients with relatively strong, rustic flavors to complement the whole wheat flavor. Many of the classic pasta sauces, such as tomato sauce and olive oil and garlic, are meant for refined pasta's subtle and delicate flavors. With whole wheat pasta, the sauce ingredients need to be both powerful and diverse, also offering more texture to balance out whole wheat's less perfect texture. We've made two successful whole wheat pasta dishes recently. You might call the first one rustic olio e aglio, with chunky mushrooms and greens, and lots of very lightly cooked garlic in lots of olive oil. The second one was with pistou, which is basically a winter pesto made with parsley instead of basil, made with an emphasis on the nuts in order to add earthiness. For both, we use either penne or spiral pasta, so that there's a more consistent balance of sauce and pasta with each bite.

Whole Wheat Pasta With Olive Oil and Garlic and the Rest of the Garden
serves 2 with leftovers

1/2 pound pasta, whole wheat, such as penne or spiral (250 g)
1/2 to 1 pound mushrooms, such as crimini, sliced relatively thickly
1 onion, optional, sliced or chopped relatively finely
1/2 or 1 head garlic, to taste, minced
salt to taste
1 or 2 bunches greens, such as chard, washed, stemmed as necessary, and cut into bite sized pieces
a lot of olive oil
1 big handful parsley, optional, minced, for garnish
parmesan or other cheese, optional, shredded or whatnot

Start the salted water boiling for pasta. Whenever the water boils, prepare the pasta and set aside. If it's going to sit for a bit, toss it with some olive oil so that it doesn't stick together.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Make sure the greens are washed, cut, and prepared. In a fairly large pan, fry the mushrooms in olive oil. If you are using onion, add soon afterwards. When the mushrooms are nearly done, add the garlic, stir, and add salt.

The character of this dish is basically shaped by how much you cook the garlic. You can cook it very briefly, and go for that sharp raw garlic taste. You can cook it for a long time, and go for that mellow cooked garlic taste. My ideal is to catch it right in between, with a little pungency and a little mellowness.

When the garlic is nearly cooked as much as you would like, add the greens and cover. Once the greens have wilted down to the desired degree, stir, add more olive oil, and salt.

Pour the pasta into the pan with the sauce, stir, and add more olive oil and salt as desired. Add the parsley and cheese if using and serve with red wine.

Whole Wheat Pasta With Pistou
serves 2 with leftovers

1/2 pound pasta, whole wheat, such as penne or spiral (250 g)
1 clove garlic
2 handfuls nuts, such as pecans... you want these nuts to be flavorful, not too mild
1 chunk parmesan or other cheese, optional
1 large-ish bunch parsley, washed and dried
a lot of olive oil
salt to taste

Stir the salted water boiling for pasta, and once it boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions. When it's done, set aside.

Toast the pecans lightly. You can do this by frying them in a dry pan with medium heat, stirring gently. Be very careful not to burn them, and as soon as they're fragrant remove them from the pan.

Add the ingredients to your blender (or, I suppose, food processor). If you're using a blender, make sure to add the chunky ingredients first. If your blender isn't mixing things, try adding more olive oil.

Serve the pasta and pistou, with additional olive oil if desired.

apologies for the lighting!

Monday, January 19

Sweet Beans

We've been eating well these past few days, from a black bean stew that I made. Ever since I moved from California to Vancouver, I've had little success when cooking beans. Suddenly, with this recipe, beans are delicious again--rich and creamy, and even distinctly sweet. Was it the sweetness of butternut squash that permeated the beans? In any case, this would be a great recipe to use as a base for bean experimentation.

I baked this cornbread to go with it. I was impressed with the technique of baking butter in the pan before adding the batter--it makes it much easier to pull the cornbread pieces from the baking dish. Again, a basic, reliable recipe.

And don't forget the big slabs of good quality butter. Yum!

Later, as you can see, I lunched on "avocado stuffed with andean bean stew with chips". Delicious, classy leftovers.

Thursday, January 8

Desktop in the Sky

It seems that I have the tendency to post in the beginning of each month, and then forget about the blog until the next month. Since it's a new month, here come the posts! Disregarding the fact that it's actually the middle of January, that is. You know, I am going to make an actual effort to post more frequently from now on. I'll aim for about twice a week.

What has been on my mind since that engrossing topic, Christmas decorations, faded away? Well, I got a new mac, after the hinge on my old laptop broke. Since then, I've been having fun with downloads. Really--there's some amazing stuff out there. For some reason I've ended up with an astronomical theme on my computer. Here is my much loved desktop, right now:

Look at that. On the left you can see the daytime, in the middle there's the nighttime, and on the right there's moonlight. This is all updated, accurately, in realtime, via the application Earthdesk. I love it because it's beautiful, and also because it keeps me aware of the nearing of dusk when I'm absorbed in the computer and prone to losing track of time. There's also a brilliant new feature: do you see those clouds? They're not actually satellite images, but they are reconstructed images based on up to the minute meteorological data. There are some days where the cloud formations are absolutely beautiful and fascinating. All this updates pretty much as frequently as you choose. The image will be centered on whichever location you select.

And then I found an application called MoonMenu which shows the current phase of the moon in the menu bar, as well as a bunch of almanac-style information in a drop down menu.

There's also astronomical widgets such as the moon phases, and the stars in your area. And of course, it's easy to find weather widgets.